Real Life

This police horse had a second chance at life

When Tiffany rescued a desperately thin and neglected horse from a lonely paddock, she had no idea he would change her life.

I first met Toby when I went to buy a different horse. That horse was called Bundy and he was impressive. His coat gleamed and his muscles rippled as he moved. But in another paddock on the property, I spotted what looked like a broken down old nag. A swarm of flies lingered around his inflamed eyes. His coat was parched and dirty, his feet cracked, his eyes full of resignation. His Roman nose and big head were the reasons why the two horses were being treated so differently. Neither of those characteristics would be popular with buyers. You could get decent money for Bundy, but this other horse was destined for the knackery.

I later learnt that he was just 18 months old and his name was Toby.

My husband, Col, and I left that day with Bundy, but the doubt started immediately. We just knew we shouldn’t have left Toby behind. We thought about it overnight and decided we had to drive back. It was about a three-hour drive but I’m so glad we acted on our instincts because when we arrived back, the truck to the knackery was already there. When we got Toby home, we discovered that a backyard castration had become badly infected. I slept in the stable with him for a few nights while he was sick and every time I woke, I was sure he would be dead. I remember looking into those eyes. If he had been suffering beyond what I thought he could bear, I would have euthanised him. But there was enough life still in his eyes that I thought, “Let’s give this the best shot we can.” So we did.

Back in 1996, I’d seen the NSW Mounted Police perform musical rides at the Sydney Royal Easter Show and had applied to join. After the required three years of general duties, I was accepted into the Mounted Police.

I loved my job, yet even at work Toby was always on my mind. Over the years, I had owned, trained and sold many horses. But there was something special about Toby.

Each day he would reveal more of himself to me. He’s quite a character. When you look at him, he’s this big, kind of goofy, loveable thing. But then he is obviously super intelligent to be able to do the things that he does, like opening locks and gates. And he loves music. He would swagger in time to music.

Police horse Toby with his paddock mate Bundy.

So what you see is very different to what he is. He would put his head over my shoulder, press into my back and really hug me. He’s always been really affectionate and very trusting, which I’ve always thought a bit odd because humans hadn’t been that great to him to start with.

In 2002, during rehearsals for the musical rides at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, I was bucked off a horse that reacted badly to the pressure of the environment. I hit the ground at speed from a great height. It was like hitting a concrete slab. That caused a big head injury that knocked me around a lot. I remember the doctors saying, “You are so lucky you are not paraplegic or quadriplegic.”

I suffered PTSD. I wondered if I would ever feel safe on a horse again. Then an idea formed. At work, I wanted to ride a horse I could trust and there was no horse I’d ever trusted more than Toby. I had no doubt he could do the job, but he wouldn’t pass the Mounted Police stipulation that he have a fine, intelligent head and good conformation and appearance. Toby’s head was neither.

I nervously explained to Commander Don Eyb that Toby was the best, most willing horse I had ever trained. After seeing his photo, Don reluctantly agreed to give him a go. When colleagues said he was too ugly, I used to laugh it off and think, “he’ll show them, he’ll prove them wrong”. And he did. He’s just one of those horses that, no matter what happens, he always thrives on it.

By mid-2004 he had been to all the major ceremonies, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the City2Surf and New Year’s Eve celebrations. He was brave and sensible, and he loved the attention. Horses are usually a flight animal, but Toby was always really inquisitive about everything. Even if the other horse with him was a little bit scared, he would have a look and get in close and sniff.

Tiffany Williams with police horse Toby.

I don’t know how to describe our bond. I just always knew he had my back and I always had his back. I wouldn’t put him in a situation that wasn’t going to be safe for him and he wouldn’t put me in a situation where he was going to hurt me either. Our bond was this mutual respect and love for one another. Whatever we did, we put ourselves in a position to succeed.

By the early 2000s, Toby had covered many demonstrations. I was on maternity leave on December 11, 2005, the first day of the Cronulla riots. But Toby was there when things went pear-shaped. Police and horses were pelted with bottles and anything else rioters could get their hands on. Toby was continually hit by projectiles but he was brave. Over eight hours, he never lost his nerve.

The most memorable time for us was, without a doubt, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Australia 2010. We trained really hard to get to that. Just before we went in, someone said, “No pressure, it’s only going live for 100 million people.”

That was the most special event we ever worked at. I remember thinking how lucky I was that Toby stood out because he was a little bit ugly and he had three white stockings up to his knees and a lot of white
on his face. My daughter was five at the time and she and my hubby managed to follow us the whole way around because I was on such a unique looking horse.

When I first saw Toby, I had no idea that this scrawny little thing I rescued would go on to become a police horse, and a really good police horse at that. It’s so sad when you think about how many other horses have been euthanised that could have gone on to great success as well. I suppose it was just a lucky day for Toby, and lucky for me.

In February 2014, I retired from the NSW Police Force because of injuries. Toby is retired now, too. But he will always be a member of our family. He and Bundy are back together in the paddock. They’re 25 years old and can both be a bit crotchety.

Toby will always have a special place in my heart – a delightful character, wonderful company and a beloved friend.

Second Chance by Diana Thurgood, Allen & Unwin, is on sale now.

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